By Gaetane Borders
Recently, my friend wrote an article that truly moved me. It moved me so much that I cried. I cried because despite our friendship…I had no prior knowledge of his traumatic childhood experience. It makes me so sad to know that this was his reality. However, I am so very excited to know the person that he ultimately turned out to be. The power of the presence of a father is immeasurable. My friend learned this at a young age. Here is his story:
5 words. 5 simple words that every child deserves to have in their arsenal. Every child deserves the protection of a caring, loving and most importantly, PRESENT daddy.
Far too often, our children are left to fend for themselves because they have been abandoned by the one who is best equipped to protect them. Far too often our children are preyed upon by those who know that there is no one there to fill the void that only a father can fill.
As I sit here in my office my eyes are filling with tears because I cannot help but feel for the kids out there who can't say these words. I feel for the little girl that doesn't know her value because daddy abandoned her. I feel for the little boy who doesn't know how to respond to situations because he has no male role model to pattern himself after.
Abandonment is a weird feeling. It hides inside of you quietly and unnoticed until the moment that you need daddy. The moment that your instincts tell you to reach out for help, only to be reminded by your mind, that there is no one to reach out to. That is when the feelings of worthlessness creep in and take root in your still forming psyche. When you are watching mommy get her a** beat by her boyfriend, or when you see someone abusing your sister and you have no one to call and you don't know how to respond.
Abandonment does not have to be permanent to leave permanent scars. All it takes is a few months of not being there for life long damage to occur to your child. That little baby that you were so proud of when he or she was born. The little one that made you feel that you suddenly mattered for the first time. The one who gave you the opportunity to be better than your absentee father was to you.
Every time I look in the mirror at my shirtless torso, I am reminded of what can happen when daddy isn't around and when uncles didn't, wouldn't or couldn't step in. I also know the feeling of being all alone in the world, coming home from school to find no one home and the doors locked. Forced to stay with friends, wondering where I was going to sleep. I had plenty of family that loved me, but I didn't have a single phone number to call. Then, after a week of staying at a school mates home, I had worn out my welcome. The abandoned little boy who didn't know his father's phone number got beat up by the school mate who's home I couldn't go back to.
So there I sat, in the lobby of the empty home that my family had left. I was 12. I sat on the steps crying and hugging my skinny little doberman who had been abandoned with me. The plan that my little mind came up with that night was to put the both of us up for adoption. He was all I had in the world. Then out of the blue, the phone rang. "A-Salam-Alaikum"....It was my father. I hadn't seen him for a few months, but at that very moment, I knew that I was safe. Within a matter of an hour, my father was there to comfort me. To protect me and to replenish the self-worth that had been sucked out of me.
He didn't have a fancy house. He didn't have a car, or fancy clothes, but when I saw him that night, he was as beautiful as any movie star that anyone has ever seen. I had a hero. I had a shoulder to cry on without a single string attached. Years later, back with my mother, dad faded off into the distance again. We were in Georgia. Mom was trying to hustle to take care of my sister and I. In and out of jail she went, so my sister and I were forced to stay with strangers for weeks and months at a time. Again, with no contact information, we had to deal with the pain of abandonment again, and again, and again as our mother was in and out of jail.
During my freshman year at Frederick Douglass HS in SW Atlanta, GA, I didn't have any clothes. I wore the same pair of pants everyday until I came up with the idea of turning them into shorts as the weather improved. After all, shorts beat highwaters. Only problem was that I didn't know the rule of "measure twice, cut once", so now my one pair of highwater pants became highwater SHORTS. :)
It was the third day of the spring semester, and Mrs. Fanning had just fronted me out for not wearing deodorant. Mom hadn't been home for a few days, and dad was who knows where at this point. Arizona I think. I noticed that the kids on the other side of the classroom, facing me, were all whispering and giggling amongst themselves. I knew that it was because the teacher had just fronted me out something fierce, but it went on for too long so I knew there was something else. I assumed that they were making fun of my off brand tennis shoes again, and when I looked down; to my horror, I saw that my teenie weenie shorts had let me down. My little nutty buddies, had somehow crept out of my short shorts. As soon as I shut my legs, that entire side of the classroom erupted into laughter. I couldn't take it, so I grabbed my books and ran all the way home to the 2 bedroom Allen Temple sh*t hole that we lived in....crying all the way.
I did not go back to school that year; cutting class by hiding in buildings from April-June. Those were some of the loneliest days of my life, sitting in those stairwells wondering why my life was the way that it was. Wondering why I was being tormented by God in this way.
Fast forward a few months to that summer and we moved to the Kinsgridge Apts near Greenbriar Mall. I got busted shoplifting by the Woolworths plain clothes security. When he saw that I was stealing underwear, I could see the anguish on is face as he tried to figure out what to do with me. Thank goodness for me that he let me go. I also joined a football team, The Buccaneers. I lied and said that I was 12 so that I could get one of the practice outfits. A pair of shorts and a Bucanners t-shirt. To me, it was a new outfit that fit, because, sad as it sounds, YES, I was still wearing those little shorts. Where was mom? Back in jail. This time for a failure to appear violation. She's been arrested so many times by this point, who could keep up with all of the court dates.
All this time that I was struggling, daddy wasn't around. Yes I knew that he loved me. Yes I knew who he was. Yes we'd had a beautiful bond at one point, but here I was, both of their son, lying and stealing for clothing, humiliated beyond imagination.
What would have happened to me if the Bucaneers coach was a Jerry Sandusky or an Eddie Long? Who was I going to turn to if I were being abused? Who did I even think cared enough to do something? Nobody. That's who. And that is what abandonment feels like.
But it can be undone in an instant.
So I am outside playing catch with my friend Ulysses. It is September and I am still wearing my E.D.O. (every day outfit). The Bucanners practice ensemble and my busted a** jeepers when the baseball we were throwing went through the neighbors window. As we stared at the window, with the tenant scolding us from the inside, I could see that I was not going to be getting any new school clothes now because that money was going to have to pay for the window. I had spent the whole summer looking at the sears catalogue in the house, wishing that I could have all of the nice clothes to wear to school and now this. Mom had just gotten out of jail a few weeks earlier and hadn't scraped up enough money except for maybe a pair of Levi's or 2.
As I sat there looking at the window a car pulled up a few yard away on the street. I didn't notice the car until the man in the passenger's seat yelled "Cushmeer!" It was my uncle Rasheed who I had not seen in years. He had just happened to be in Atlanta from Chicago, and was only in the neighborhood because the driver was dropping some money off to his kids. I cannot tell you what it felt like to hear "Cushmeer" at that moment. Only my family knew that name.
The next day, my uncle Rasheed came back to the house and took my sister and I to the Polo Store at Perimeter mall and bought us more clothes than I had even prayed for.
I remember staying up all night looking in the mirror at every outfit combination that I could think of. The impact that Rasheed's love had on me was instant and profound. Rasheed never abandoned us. He made sure that we got out of the new sh*t hole that we were living in. He made sure that we were reconnected with our family, and to this day, we have not been out of contact.
I owe my life to that day. I fear what I may have become had God not brought Rasheed to us at that moment. I was a victim waiting for a victimizer. Fortunately for me, I was rescued by a loving uncle who cared enough to fill part of the void created by my father's absence.
So I say to you, if you know of a child that is missing a father, take the time to help them, to encourage them and to love them; because if we don't, the horrors of Penn State and New Birth will continue to haunt our community for years and generations to come.
God Bless the fathers who, despite the obstacles and roadblocks find it in themselves to MAKE A WAY to be there for their children; and God bless the children who have no daddy to protect them.
Shout out to all of the fathers who stood strong and weathered the storms. Shah Salahdeen, Troy DaGraca, Patrick Hudson, Karriem Shah, WD Shah, Craig Gloster, Jihad Khayyam and Juan Pittman, through thick and thin, you stand tall for yours.
Peas In Their Pods, an organization that helps to spread awareness about missing children of color. She has dedicated her life to helping families and children, and is a noted child advocate. Gaétane often lends her expertise to various media outlets such as CBS, CNN, and FOX. In addition, she frequently contributes to magazines and newspapers.